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Note:  Since writing this review, I found out that four bulls were deliberately killed during the filming of the bullfighting scenes in this movie.  Director Almodovar stands to lose $1,350 to $13,513 dollars for his brutality and lack of respect toward these animals.  I hope that anyone that finds killing four beautiful creatures just to get the right shot in a movie to be immoral will boycott this film.  The review below was written before I knew this slaughter took place and I have decided not to alter it, thereby avoiding the temptation to review the actions behind the film, rather than the film itself. 

Talk to Her
Review written by: Alex Sandell

WARNING:  There are spoilers in the following critique.

The leading character in Talk to Her, a man named Benigno (Javier Cámara), is presented to us as a very likable fellow.  He's a hardworking nurse who takes care of his patient Alicia (Leonor Watling) in the same assiduous way that a lifelong husband would look after a dying wife.  When Benigno isn't working, he's attending silent films and ballet -- Alicia's favorites, before being knocked into a coma -- so he can describe them all to her in vivid detail the next day at work.  

As Benigno takes care of Alicia in his special way, Marco Zuloaga (Darío Grandinetti) has just had his girlfriend Lydia (Rosario Flores) fall into a coma after being gored by a bull.  Lydia is admitted to the same hospital as Alicia, and Marco ends up meeting up with Benigno after he's caught watching the topless Alicia being cleaned off.  Benigno, being the nice guy that he is, completely disregards patient confidentiality (he probably already did that by giving his naked patient a bath with the door to her room hanging open) and invites Marco in for a visit. 

The two men end up making fast friends and Benigno quickly tries to convince the cynical Marco that there is hope for his gored girlfriend Lydia, and that he should still talk to her as though she were awake.  Benigno needs to believe that he has a partner, rather than a patient, in his beloved Alicia, and getting Marco to believe in his own comatose girlfriend would help to keep this fantasy alive. 

Marco remains skeptical and is forever unable to talk to Lydia.  Benigno goes all out to convince his friend, and himself, that these women are more than a pair of breathing vegetables, by sitting them up right next to each other on an outdoor balcony so that they can sunbathe as the men look on.  It's extremely bizarre seeing the two coma victims situated by Benigno to appear as though they're in the middle of a whispered conversation out on the deck.  Using the balcony scene as a starting point the film grows increasingly strange, demanding more and more from its audience as it goes on.

     

The character we have been given to identify with throughout the movie is Benigno.  Yet, the more we know about the man, the harder it is to identify with him.  When Alicia skips her period, it is revealed that Benigno had doctored medical documents to hide the same problem a month earlier.  People begin noticing that Alicia's breasts are growing larger and start to suspect that not all is well between Benigno and his patient.  It is at this point that screenwriter and director Pedro Almodóvar turns the film over to the dark side and asks us to continue believing that it's still all sunny-side up.

Without revealing how the movie ends, I will say that it has left me feeling uneasy right up to this day.  The film is a hard one to critique, because it goes against all conventional ideas of right and wrong.  A lot of people have said that this is "the ultimate story of true love."  I feel more like the film is a cleverly designed piece of propaganda created to help a person overcome any feelings of guilt that he or she may have over committing a repulsive crime of hate. 

There is no disputing that Almodóvar is a powerful filmmaker, but in Talk to Her he uses that power to become a master manipulator.  Every scene is another attempt at getting us to believe in Benigno.  Alicia is nearly an angelic figure.  One can't help but to be transfixed by her beauty, or even attracted to her naked body.  "If you were aroused," Almodóvar seems to be asking, "can you not identify with Benigno's plight?" 

The numerous ways Almodóvar justifies the immoral actions of a male nurse to his patient are incredible.  The amount of people I've talked to about the movie that feel that the male nurse's actions in the film were justifiable is scary.  It would be nice to ask any of these individuals who cried for Benigno how they would feel if a similar character was their daughter's nurse and acted as Benigno did in a real life situation. 

Talk to Her crosses the line from "morally ambiguous" to "morally depraved," and no amount of technical proficiency or clever story-telling can save it.  I would sincerely like to recommend this film for its beautiful cinematography, delightful acting, touching moments of subtlety and its wicked sense of humor.  Still, there have been a handful of well-made films that I could never recommend to anyone due to their message, just as I won't recommend Talk to Her to anyone now. 

On a scale of 1-10?

8 (based on artistic merit)

1 (based on the story told)

4 (overall)

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Text ©(Copyright) 2002 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].

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